Perfect Content Marketing: How Content Generates Leads and Sales at Every Step of the Funnel

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March 29,2016 by
Russ Henneberry

It’s a big promise: perfect content marketing.

But, for the software company Freshbooks (as an example), this web page represents perfect content marketing for a prospect that needs pricing information to make an informed buying decision.

Content Marketing at Freshbooks

Yep, a pricing page is content.

The big misconception is that content marketing is blogging. While blogs are a major component of content marketing, they’re only a part of the bigger picture. In fact, in most cases, a blog is not the most lucrative form of content marketing.

But we’ll come back to that.

First, let’s get clear on the six characteristics of perfect content marketing and why it’s essential that you get started.

(NOTE: At the end of this article you’ll get access to a tool we use to make perfect content planning a breeze.)

1 – Perfect Content Marketing is Full Funnel

I know this is Marketing 101 stuff but stick with me for just a second before I get into the more advanced content marketing concepts we’ll be covering.

For an ice-cold prospect to become a customer they will need to travel through three stages…

Content Marketing And The Marketing Funnel

  1. Awareness – The prospect must first become aware that there is a problem and that YOU or your organization have a solution for it. (This is where your blog EXCELS)
  2. Evaluation – Those that move through the Awareness Stage must now evaluate the various choices available to them, including your competitor’s solutions and, of course, taking no action at all to solve the problem.
  3. Conversion – Those that move through the Evaluation Stage are now at the moment of truth — purchase. At DigitalMarketer, our goal at this stage is to convert leads into frequent and high-ticket buyers.

A cold prospect cannot evaluate your solution until they are first aware of the problem AND your solution. And conversion is impossible until the prospect has first evaluated the possible courses of action.

To move a prospect through a marketing funnel, they will need content designed to satisfy their needs at each of the three stages.

In other words…

  • They need content at the top of the funnel (TOFU) that facilitates awareness.
  • They need content in the middle of the funnel (MOFU) that facilitates evaluation.
  • They need content at the bottom of the funnel (BOFU) that facilitates conversion.

Make sense?

Blogs are fantastic facilitators of awareness — but they do a poor job of facilitating evaluation and conversion. And, at the risk of pointing out the obvious, evaluation and conversion are super critical to your business.

To move prospects through the middle (MOFU) and bottom of the funnel (BOFU) you’ll need other content types.

It looks like this…

The Content Lifecycle

We call it The Content Lifecycle.

Let’s look at each stage of the funnel and the content needed at those stages…

Top Of The Funnel (TOFU) Content Marketing

The prospects entering the top of your funnel are completely unaware of your solution and, often, completely unaware of their problem.

As a result, you need content with a low barrier to entry — because they have little to no motivation to put skin in the game (think giving you contact information or money.)

You need freely available content at the top of the funnel (TOFU) that…

  • Entertains
  • Educates
  • or Inspires

… and you need to make it readily available using content types like:

  • Blog posts
  • Social Media Updates
  • Infographics
  • Photographs
  • Digital Magazines/Books
  • Audio/Video Podcasts
  • Microsites
  • Print Magazines/Newsletters (You’ll need a bigger budget here)
  • Primary Research

Do you need all of these content types at the top of the funnel? Heck no.

Most businesses will post content to a blog and to social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc. Once you’ve mastered these two content types, you’ll want to add more top of funnel content to the mix like a podcast or a print newsletter.

Remember, the big goal at the top of the funnel is to make prospects ‘problem aware’ and ‘solution aware.’

Notice how Whole Foods, using their Whole Story blog, raises awareness for a sea scallops offer while providing valuable content (recipes and cooking instructions)…

Content Marketing - Whole Foods

At DigitalMarketer we provide educational content our prospects are interested in — raising awareness of our training products and services…

(Shhhhh… don’t tell anyone but this VERY blog post you are reading now is educating you about the strategy and tactics taught in our Content Marketing Mastery Certification.) :)

Notice how this kitchen remodeling company uses photographs of remodeled kitchens to make prospects ‘problem aware’ and ‘solution aware’ …

Content Marketing at the top of the funnel

Unfortunately, the top of the funnel is where most organizations begin and end their content marketing efforts.

Smart content marketers know that, with a bit more effort, they can move prospects from awareness to evaluation in the middle of the funnel.

Here’s how it gets done…

Middle of the Funnel (MOFU) Content Marketing

The big goal in the middle of the funnel is to convert ‘problem aware’ and ‘solution aware’ prospects into LEADS.

We use free content to incentivize prospects to submit their contact information and opt-in to receive future marketing.

We call this type of content a Lead Magnet.

Lead Magnets can be…

  • Educational Resources (Case Study, White Paper, etc)
  • Useful Resources (Swipe File, Checklist, etc)
  • Software Downloads
  • Discount/Coupon Clubs
  • Quizzes/Surveys
  • Webinars/Events

This is a Lead Magnet that DigitalMarketer uses to generate leads for our products surrounding Facebook advertising…

Generating Leads from Content Marketing

By clicking on the Download Now button you will be prompted to enter your email address to receive the piece of content.

This piece of content (a White Paper) from Cloud Margin generates ‘solution aware’ leads…

Getting Leads from Content Marketing

But you can’t deposit leads in the bank.

A third content type is required at the bottom of the funnel (BOFU) to convert leads into customers…

Bottom of the Funnel (BOFU) Content Marketing

Ok, it’s point of sale time.

What types of content will your new lead need to make an informed purchase decision?

Here are a few…

  • Demos/Free Trials
  • Customer Stories
  • Comparison/Spec Sheets
  • Webinars/Events
  • Mini-Classes

Your lead may be reading your blog  and downloading Lead Magnets (and it will help convert her), but you’ll need content that helps her decide between you and your competitor to move her through to purchase.

Notice how Salesforce supplies leads in the bottom of the funnel with plenty of customer stories to prove that their product can handle that lead’s circumstances…

Sales from Content Marketing has dozens of these customer stories — one for every major industry, product offering and size of business.

Customer stories are content that converts — and they are the responsibility of the content marketing team.

Consider this piece of content designed to assist prospective Quickbooks customers in choosing the right solution…

Selling with Content Marketing

Google would suggest a comparison sheet between Quickbooks and their competitors (such as Xero) is another piece of content that should be on the radar of the Intuit content marketing team…

Content Marketing Selling Products

And while we’re at it — look at all the bottom of funnel (BOFU) content Xero’s content marketing team has built…

BOFU Content from Xero




Content Marketing at the Bottom of the Funnel

Is creating top of funnel (TOFU) content on a blog important?


But failing to build a full-funnel content plan will leave you disappointed in your content marketing results.

(NOTE: Need Content Marketing training? See Digital Marketer’s Content Marketing Specialist training and certification program by clicking here.)

2 – Perfect Content Marketing is Intent-Based

The key to perfect content marketing is understanding existing intent and anticipating future intent. Then, creating the content “assets” needed to address that intent 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

In our Freshbooks example, a customer that is deep in the funnel might have the intent to compare Freshbooks to Quickbooks.

This content asset addresses that intent:

Content Marketing at the Bottom of the Funnel

The truth is the most lucrative content assets you’ll create (if you have an existing business) are assets that meet intent at the bottom and middle of the funnel. Optimize for this existing bottom and middle of funnel intent before going to work on generating awareness at the top of the funnel with an expensive and time consuming blog roll out.

That’s not to diminish the power of a business blog. Over the last 24 months, we’ve been adding content assets (articles and podcasts) at the top of the funnel and we’ve increased website traffic (think awareness) by 1053%.

That said, the quick wins in the content marketing game are in the middle and bottom of the funnel.

3 – Perfect Content Marketing is Ascension Focused

Failure to provide an ascension path from every piece of content you create isn’t just bad marketing — it’s a bad user experience.

Smart content marketers anticipate the next logical intent and remove as much friction as possible to create a clear path to conversion.

In our Freshbooks pricing page example, notice that Freshbooks has created a clear ascension path to a “Risk-Free Trial” of the software.

From blog content, prospects can be given the opportunity to opt-in with their email address to get more information about a topic.

Check out this ascension offer embedded in a blog post. Clicking on this banner ad will take the prospect to a landing page to enter their email address and ascend to a lead:

Content Marketing for Leads

They get more information about a topic they are interested in — you get a lead.

4 – Perfect Content Marketing is Segmented

You can run surveys and polls until you are blue in the face. But you won’t know what they are truly interested in until they give you their money or time.

When a prospect visits a piece of content (spends time) they have raised their hand and indicated interest. And, because of the magic of ad retargeting you can follow up with these prospects with a relevant ascension offer without even acquiring their contact information.

Content Marketing and Social Advertising

5 – Perfect Content Marketing is Cross-Channel

Perfect content marketers publish content that meets intent in any channel where groups of prospects are searching for and sharing content including:

  • Website/blog
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Pinterest
  • YouTube

Chances are a single content asset could be published across numerous channels to maximize exposure.

Could that video demo of your product be republished on your YouTube channel like Cuisinart has done here…

(If you’re wondering, “Who in the hell would watch that boring video?” The answer is anyone that is interested in buying a coffee grinder and, particularly, anyone interested in buying THAT coffee grinder. Anecdotally… I bought that coffee grinder after watching that demo just a few weeks ago. The grinder does a great job grinding coffee and that video does a great job at cross-channel content marketing at the bottom of the funnel.) :)

Can that article on your blog be repurposed as a webinar? Can that podcast become a written article for LinkedIn Pulse?

6 – Perfect Content Marketing is Avatar Based

Last, but certainly not least, perfect content marketing assets are produced to satisfy the intent of your customer avatars. A content asset can satisfy the intent of multiple avatars or it can be published to target a single avatar.

At DigitalMarketer, for example, we produced an article to raise awareness (top of the funnel) for our marketing certification programs. This article was specifically targeted to our “Employee” avatar that has the intent of acquiring skills that will land them a better job.

Content Marketing and the Customer Avatar

Content Marketing Planning: The Content Campaign

To execute perfect content marketing, you’ll need a plan.

At DigitalMarketer, we make this plan at the offer level using a spreadsheet called a Content Campaign Plan.

The planning document includes fields for:

  • Marketing Funnel – Is this asset addressing intent at the top, middle or bottom of the funnel?
  • Avatar – Which avatar(s) will this asset target?
  • Vehicle – Will this be a text, image, video or audio asset?
  • Channel – Where will this asset be published?
  • Ascension Path – What call-to-action will be used in this asset?

The Content Campaign Plan is used to align content marketing with business objectives like generating leads and sales.

It looks like this (I know that’s hard to read, but you can access the template by clicking here).

Content Marketing Planning

Want to create content that converts prospects at all stages of the funnel? Create a Content Campaign Plan and execute on it. It works.

(NOTE: Need Content Marketing training? See Digital Marketer’s Content Marketing Specialist training and certification program by clicking here.)

About Russ Henneberry

Russ Henneberry is the Editorial Director at Digital Marketer. He's worked on digital marketing projects for companies like CrazyEgg, and Network Solutions. You can connect with Russ on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google+.

View all Posts by Russ Henneberry